Michael Lo Sordo

It's not easy being the next big thing. Expectations are raised, the bar is moved irrevocably, unreachably higher, and suddenly you're facing up to only your junior outing at Australian fashion week and you can feel the pressure mounting. So what does Michael Lo Sordo - recently awarded the QANTAS Spirit of Youth Award and one of the annointed New York 5, chosen to represent Australian fashion design to the New York headquarters of the CFDA - choose to do? Show off-site in a hip and of-the-moment yet extremely tiny restaurant in Potts Point, pare everything back to the bare minimum, and with relatively little fanfare and no theatrics whatsoever, show what is, ultimately, his best collection yet.

And that is what this collection is, with it's striking colour palette that merges fluidly his trademark neutrals with rough-hewn, almost-matte metallics of silver and sapphire blue with one striking moment of pillar box red. It is his best because it shows Lo Sordo's ability to spin something new out of the tried-and-tested graphic minimalism that is slowly becoming one of the hallmarks of Australian design. From wunderkind Dion Lee to this year's favourite, Christopher Esber (and we can ever lump Josh Goot and Kym Ellery in this category, let's be honest) there is a strictly structured and uptight vein to our most successful designers. What Lo Sordo does that makes him stand out is his ability to match design innovation with professionalism, poise and just enough commercial viability to get the buyers ticking those order boxes. His clothes straddle that oft-invoked borderline between visionary and viable, the place where his many fans the country over will gladly pair a printed mini dress with a classic tailored coat (like, perhaps, the leather-sleeved number?) or maybe the tailored black trousers with a printed stripe running defiantly down the side of one leg, paired with a plain tee shirt and flat sandals. This is how real people dress, an exciting bit of design here, a touch of staple style there, and that is what Michael Lo Sordo does so well. Every piece in his small but perfectly formed collection embodied exactly what the contemporary mode of dressing entails.

If you want to get super technical and grass-roots then we can look at just one garment which embodies this so well. Those pleated kilt dresses, dotting the collection like bannermen and available in a stunning array of leather, silk, chiffon, prints and block colours, could be a metaphor for Lo Sordo's entire oeuvre. Last year at RAFW they were tightly wound, knife-edge pleats that were so sharp they could have cut you. This season they have relaxed a little bit. Whether softly gathered from a white chiffon skirt or graphically defined swinging from the netball-skirt of a dress (that red number again, we're telling you, what an impact it made!) or in the peekaboo folds of a bodice that gave the photographers in the media pit more than an eyeful, they were more confident, more sure of themselves and definitely, even distinctly more self-aware. Winning that award places expectations on Lo Sordo's shoulders of greatness and, yes, those expectations are hard to meet. But, it seems to also have given Lo Sordo a sense of his own self-worth as a designer. There was something quite proud about the collection, with its regal parade of models in their kilt-inspired tunics like some kind of elegant Greek warrior. And in those pleats we can see how far Lo Sordo has come in just one single year, and, like some prophet descrying truth from the oracles, we can get a tantalising glimpse of how much further he can go.

The pleats have it, and so does Michael Lo Sordo.

All photographs taken by Hannah and I, words by Hannah-Rose Yee and illustration by me.